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The Alhambra, the 'red fort' on its rocky hill above Granada, with its fountained courts and gardens, and intricate decoration, has long been a byword for exotic and melancholy beauty. In a stimulating new book in the 'Wonders of the World' series Robert Irwin, Arabist and novelist, examines its engrossing and often mysterious history. Built by a bloody and threatened dynasty of Muslim Spain, it was preserved as a monument to the triumph of Christianity. Much of what we see is the invention of later generations. ...
The Alhambra, the 'red fort' on its rocky hill above Granada, with its fountained courts and gardens, and intricate decoration, has long been a byword for exotic and melancholy beauty. In a stimulating new book in the 'Wonders of the World' series Robert Irwin, Arabist and novelist, examines its engrossing and often mysterious history. Built by a bloody and threatened dynasty of Muslim Spain, it was preserved as a monument to the triumph of Christianity. Much of what we see is the invention of later generations. Its highly sophisticated decoration is not just random but full of hidden meaning. Even its purpose - palace or theological college - is not always clear. Its influence on art, and on literature, orientalist painting and Granada cinemas, Washington Irving and Borges, has been significant. Robert Irwin enables us to understand that history fully. The Wonders of the World is a series of books that focuses on some of the world's most famous sites or monuments. Their names will be familiar to almost everyone: they have achieved iconic stature and are loaded with a fair amount of mythological baggage. These monuments have been the subject of many books over the centuries, but our aim, through the skill and stature of the writers, is to get something much more enlightening, stimulating, even controversial, than straightforward histories or guides.
This book captures and conveys the mysterious attractions of the Alhambra.
— Doris Lessing
[A] fascinating book.
— Malise Ruthven
Irwin's book is both a perfect introduction to the place and a first-rate account of its history.
— Mark Cocker
Edward Said pointed out that in writing about the Arab world, authors always have an agenda. Perhaps Irwin has replaced a Romantic illusion about the Alhambra with one more attractive to the New Age. Irwin is, however, modest about the possibility of ever knowing what the Alhambra was for. And his agenda seems to be nothing more sinister than to get us to look once more and to marvel once again at something we only thought we knew.
— Robin Banerji
[A] delicious, tart monograph.
— Vera Rule
In this rich, concise contribution to the literature, Robert Irwin uses his vast knowledge of medieval Islam to illumine both myth and reality, history and imagination, without disenchanting the romantic reader...Having been to the Alhambra many times, after reading this wonderful book I wished to go back—and see it for the first time.
— Shusha Guppy
A fascinating and very manageable guide. Irwin takes in the history of the Alhambra's inhabitants, its cultural importance to Westerners and to a new generation of Islamic writers.
— Mirand France
It is...greatly to Robert Irwin's credit that he has written a book on the subject that is sensible, scholarly, astringent and witty. It is a fine addition to what promises to be an outstanding series on the world's great monuments.
— Martin Gayford
In his remarkably concise, original and readable study, The Alhambra, Irwin deploys impressive scholarship to skewer many of the myths that have grown up around the beautiful palace complex of Nasirid Granada: 'legends, lies and honest mistakes are as much a part of the story of the Alhambra as is the factual record,' he writes. 'So are vandalism, inadequately researched and botched restoration work and distortions caused by the demands of the tourist trade.' It is these myths and distortions that Irwin sets about dismantling, a task he clearly enjoys...Irwin shows that the Alhambra has meant many different things to many different people. If the Victorians liked to see it as a symbol of Oriental luxury and debauchery, then many modern Arabs have seen it as a symbol of defeat, 'an icon of exile and loss.'
— William Dalrymple
The Alhambra is a succinct, witty, often acerbic compendium of facts, legends, and outright delusions about this Nasrid architectural masterpiece. He also manages, with style and flair, to convey a surprisingly rich store of detail on medieval Andalusian culture and life...He is the ideal companion: amusing, learned, curious, often eloquent...The Alhambra contains much precious detail drawn from the Arabic sources, historical as well as literary.
— Eric Ormsby